Between 7:30 Monday night and 7:30 Tuesday night there were three eye-opening events that made me question the role of arts criticism today. The first occurred at "Fly: Five First Ladies of Dance," a performance so stunning that there was collective euphoria afterwards as people smiled and greeted one another on their way out of The Kennedy Center. The second moment came in a class of Dance History when Dance majors asked pointed questions about dance writing and offered excellent observations about the role of critics. The last moment was the most disheartening: The Kennedy Center hosted a panel about arts criticism and Douglas McLennan, Editor of ArtsJournal.com talked about how difficult it is for him to find decent dance writing to post on his site, then pondered if something should be done about theaters that restrict cell phone use since all the young people today only want to attend events where they can use their communication devices constantly. One of the panelists turned to him and asked "are you suggesting we twitter at the opera?" The discussion seemed light-years away from the brilliance of the performance I had attended the night before and the curiosity and insights of the GMU Dance majors that afternoon. Given the power and impact critics have in shaping discourse, I was dismayed by the disconnect between artists and editors. Fortunately there were some thought-provoking pieces published about "Fly" in City Paper and The Washington Post. And I include some thoughts I wrote for my own memory of the performance.
Only five dancers were on the stage of The Terrace Theater last night: Bebe Miller, Germaine Acogny, Dianne McIntyre, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, and Carmen de Lavallade. Yet they brought with them the legacy and accomplishments of 50 years of African-American artists.